How I Spent 48 Hours And $480 On A Solo Staycation In Lisbon
Weekend well spent.
Portugal, the country made up of a small sliver of land along the edge of the Iberian Peninsula, is finally getting its due. Travelers from around the world are starting to recognize this gorgeous destination for every stunning detail it has to offer — from its cliffside beaches with unparalleled azure ocean vistas to world-class dining options (never, ever skip the fish, snails, or bread when dining in Portugal), and a rich cultural history that's displayed right on its facades with masterful tilework (known locally as azulejo). Though the entire country is worthy of a lengthy stay, Lisbon, its capital city, is the heartbeat of it all.
I moved to Lisbon in 2021 to pursue my Ph.D. at Universidade Católica Portuguesa. Though I came here to study, I found so much more to stay for. It's a place where life moves a little slower, where priorities shift from moving as much as possible to sitting and savoring every moment with a good cup of coffee at an outdoor cafe, and where every day brings something new to explore. So, instead of booking a trip to a far-flung destination, I decided to take a solo weekend staycation right here in my new hometown.
The one thing I'll note is spending $480 in Lisbon, even in 48 hours, is seriously tough work. Great coffee can cost as little as $1. Wine by the glass runs for about $4-5, or an entire bottle for about $12. And the best meal of your life? That could be just $20 total for an appetizer, main, and even dessert. Adventuring in Lisbon can also be free, thanks to many outdoor cultural attractions, free museum days, and the city's willingness to share for very, very little. With that, let's see how far we can stretch this budget in Lisbon, Portugal. (Heads up: Prices here are adjusted to the U.S. dollar, though in Portugal you use the euro. When I traveled in August 2022, the conversion was nearly 1-1. It can — and will — fluctuate, so definitely check the conversion rates before you travel!)
2 p.m.: Arrive in Portugal
I'm here on a staycation, but most visitors will arrive in Portugal from the Humberto International Airport. The airport here is very different from other international airports you've likely been to due to its close proximity to the city. You can catch a cab or an Uber from here and be in the city's center in about 20 minutes, tops. Cabs typically cost about $15-$20. However, there's also a metro station that will take you right into the city for just $2, which you should choose both for the savings and the reduced environmental impact.
Transfer cost: $2
3 p.m.: Check into Safestay Hostel
There are so many hostels in Lisbon catering to budget travelers, but Safestay is top-notch with its private rooms, which are available for $60 a night. The private rooms allow for a little more personal security, especially if you're a solo traveler, and private bathrooms so you won't have to share. The beauty of staying in a hostel is the built-in social activities. At Safestay, guests can participate in group dinner events, excursions, or general hangouts in its spacious lobby. People typically choose to stay in hostels for exactly these social purposes, so don't be shy about going up to someone and saying hello.
Hotel stay for two nights: $120
4 p.m.: Grab coffee and a cookie at Dramático
Lisbon is absolutely brimming with coffee shops worthy of your time, but for a tranquil cup near the hostel, make your way to Dramático. It's as low-key a spot as they come, with only a small sign outside reading "Coffee." There's also a note on the door explaining the hours, which only hold true if the owner's in town. But if he is there, you're in for a treat — literally. The quaint shop serves all sorts of coffees from Americanos to espressos, lattes, cortados, matcha, and more. And don’t skip the snack selection! The owner bakes everything himself, all from recipes handed down by his mother. Get the chocolate chip cookie, or if there's any left, the coconut bread that's perfectly savory and sweet.
Coffee and a snack at Dramático: $10
5 p.m.: Walk the waterfront
Lisbon is home to a gorgeous river, the Tagus, which is constantly full of sailboats floating by. Add the iconic Ponte 25 de Abril bridge into the mix and it’s a scene you should absolutely take the time to check out. The bridge may even look a little familiar to Americans — it's meant to resemble the Golden Gate Bridge. Snap a few photos and walk for as long as you'd like. Bonus points for stopping at one of its kiosks for a fresh juice along the way.
8 p.m.: Dinner at Pigmeu
Start your culinary journey in Lisbon at a traditional restaurant like Pigmeu. Located in the Campo de Ourique neighborhood, the establishment serves mostly meat dishes with a few seafood options, like mussels and a carrot salad that's so good you'll want to write a postcard home about it. The restaurant doesn't have an English-language menu, but it does have an extremely friendly staff ready to assist with your ordering needs. Ask about their favorite wines, and go with the blend of white and red if they suggest it. (By the way, tipping isn’t required in Portugal. But if you think the service was exceptional, feel free to leave a little left over.)
Dinner for one at Pigmeu: $25
10 p.m.: Drinks at Jam Club
End your night right by stopping in at Jam Club, arguably the best hole-in-the-wall bar this side of the international dateline. The bar, located in Príncipe Real, sits just outside the main row of nightclubs and lively bars just a few blocks south, but that only adds to its charm. It will get just as busy as the rest, but comes with a slightly less rowdy crowd (and I mean just slightly). The bartender here, Joao, is well-known for being an incredible host, connecting patrons whom he thinks may hit it off (for a friendly conversation or otherwise). Jam Club is also rated the No. 1 dive bar in Lisbon on Tripadvisor, so you already know it's going to be a great time. Beers here run around $2, but you’ll want to put your budget at $10 to account for both tipping a few back or buying a round for new friends.
Drinks at Jam Club: $10
Total for Friday: $177
9 a.m.: Breakfast at Comobå
The Portuguese have brunch absolutely dialed. Like the plentiful coffee shops, Lisbon is home to more than its fair share of breakfast spots. For a plate that's as delicious as it is beautiful, stop in at Comobå. The restaurant has window and bar seating that's ideal for solo travelers, but if you happen to have made a few friends at the hostel, try snagging a table in its back outdoor area. The menu’s got plenty of variety, including avocado toast, eggs, and pancakes, but the overnight oats are where it’s at, stacked with seasonal fruits, almond butter, and edible flowers. Get them with a latte to complete the yummy scene.
Breakfast at Comobå: $15
10 a.m.: Pick up a 24-hour scooter rental
Getting around Lisbon is easy, thanks to the metro and its walkable streets, but the hills can be absolutely brutal on your legs (especially on a hot day). That's why it's a good idea to look into a scooter rental. There are dozens, but Lisbon Scooter Rentals is a great bet. Cars here are a little tough as the streets are pretty narrow and take some getting used to, which is why a scooter is also an ideal alternative. Snag a 24-hour rental that’ll allow you to zip around the city with ease. Just make sure to always follow the road directions and, of course, wear a helmet.
Scooter rental: $55
11 a.m.: Visit the National Tile Museum
Again, there's a never-ending list of cultural attractions and museums to see here (think: the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Museu do Design e da Moda, and the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology), but one of the more Portuguese-centric options is the National Tile Museum. The museum explores the history of tile across Portugal, and highlights a few modern artists keeping the tradition alive. Don't miss the massive mural saved from the 1755 earthquake, which depicts what the city looked like before much of it was reduced to rubble.
National Tile Museum ticket: $6
1 p.m.: Lunch at Time Out Market
The Time Out Market is the ideal lunch spot for guests only staying in Lisbon for a short time. The market hosts some of the best dining establishments in the city, all under one roof. Here, find a variety of meals from places like Marisqueira Azul, which serves delicious seafood, or Café de São Bento, which makes drool-worthy sandwiches. There is surely something for everyone here — vegetarians included — and it's an excellent idea to come hungry, so you can indulge in more than one stall (which is also why your budget here is a little larger than you actually need, but trust me, you'll want the splurge money for seconds).
Lunch at the Time Out Market: $35
3 p.m.: Ride Tram 28
Lisbon is beloved for its adorable little trams that meander by. And when I say "meander," I mean it. Hopping on a tram is absolutely not the fastest way to get from one end of the city to the other, but it sure is the most fun way to do it. The best line to hop on is line 28, which takes visitors from Praça Martim Moniz to Campo Ourique and back again. You can ride the entire time (and purchase tickets right on the tram) or hop on and off — just remember that those living in Portugal do actually use the trams as daily transportation, too.
Ticket to ride the tram: $3
4 p.m.: Stop for pastel de nata
Thought the cookie was great at Dramático? Wait until you get your hands on a pastel de nata. The small custard tarts are the perfect, sweet bite you’ll need as an afternoon pick-me-up, and they’re really only found in Portugal. Though there are a number of stellar spots selling the treat, Pastéis de Belém is consistently ranked among the best, making it a worthy trek to get just one… or two… OK, fine, three.
Pastel de nata: $6
6 p.m.: Visit a miradouro for a drink
Lisbon is good looking and it knows it. The city shows off its best assets with designated miradouros, or "viewpoints." These spots offer gorgeous views of the skyline or the river (depending on which you choose), along with food and beverage options at individual kiosks. For a view of the bridge, make your way to Miradouro de Santa Catarina. For a drink, try an Aperol Spritz, which will remind you of the setting sun, and is just an all-around fantastic evening cocktail choice.
Cocktail at a miradouro: $12
9 p.m.: Dinner at Pao de Canela
Mix a little tradition with a little modern at Pão de Canela. The restaurant is next to a park called Jardim Fialho de Almeida, which sits along a lively little square, so you can maximize your people-watching while dining. To start, order the homemade bread with herb butter and crushed olives. Move on to a heartier bite and try the linguini with local shrimp. Wash it all down with a glass of vinho verde, a wine grown in Portugal that’s typically a crisp, citrus-forward drink.
Dinner for one at Pao de Canela: $30
Total for Saturday: $162
10 a.m.: Brunch at Hello Kristof
Ease your way into your last day in Portugal with brunch at Hello Kristof, another low-key cafe that's also wildly aesthetically pleasing. The cafe offers a few small tables and asks customers to not use their laptops on many of them. You really won't want to anyway, since its magazine selection is sublime. Read up on the latest restaurants in Portugal with Insiders Lisbon, dig into the history of coffee with an edition of Drift, or test your Portuguese language skills with a local Vogue, all while dining on a freshly made croissant and a warm matcha latte.
Brunch at Hello Kristof: $20
12 p.m.: Take a self-guided tour of the street art
By this point in your trip, you've likely already noticed that the city is home to some rather eye-catching public art. Explore it a little further by taking a self-guided street art tour provided by Underdogs, an exhibition and public art program in the city. Bonus points for visiting its physical gallery space at the end.
Street art tour: Free
1 p.m.: Stop into Cecile *M for a souvenir
You really can’t miss the stellar ceramics in Lisbon. Artists here can craft just about anything, including plates, bowls, candlesticks, and some very adorable espresso cups, all of which are worthy of making their way into your suitcase as souvenirs. Stop into local artist Cecile *M's place and marvel at the colorful pieces before picking one out to take home, knowing you're further supporting the arts.
2 p.m.: Depart for the airport
Sadly, it's time to depart, unless you're like me and have chosen to make your favorite travel destination a permanent home (which Lisbon really could sell you on in under 48 hours). You can choose to get to the airport via the metro by hopping on the Aeroporto – Saldanha line, or ordering an Uber. Since I've got a little money left over, I'm going to splurge on a fancy Uber ride and forgo lugging my bags up and down the metro steps.
Cost of ride to airport: $20
Total cost for Sunday: $140
Total 48-hour trip cost: $479
Lisbon is a destination worthy of a far longer getaway, but if two days are all you have, you can certainly make the most of it. Just order a few extra pastel de natas to keep the vacation vibes going a little while longer.